Coming off the success of his feature debut Chronicle (2012), director Josh Tank attempts to tackle another superhero genre film: Fantastic Four. A reboot of the superhero film that was only made less than a decade ago, Tank’s version endeavours to be a darker and more realistic ride, with a notably younger cast.
When teen genius, Reed Richards (Miles Teller), is commandeered to work on a teleportation device for the Baxter Foundation, he encounters rival Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), and science-wiz siblings: Sue and Johnny Storm (Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan). Upon testing the device, they are transported to another dimension along with his childhood friend, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), and are left with amazing new abilities that they must now harness.
The first half of the film is a great introduction to who these characters are and the history that they share. Time is taken to build the world, so that when they do get their powers you genuinely fear for their safety, even though you know that they’ll ultimately be fine. That’s not to say it’s perfect (seeing Reed and Ben as children seemed a bit unnecessary) but it does well to try and flesh out these characters with more traits than just relying on what has become fairly stereotypical for this group of heroes, e.g. the smart one, the cocky one, etc.
There are two giant problems though, which both occur in the second half of the film. The first occurs around the halfway point when there is a time jump right after the four receive their powers, which creates a pretty big disjoint in the movie. Whisked away to a secret government facility, the four are examined and monitored, with their new powers appearing more like life threatening injuries. Then there is a year long jump that skips to a point where the characters are now apparently very competent with their powers and it all seems a little anti-climatic, not to mention that they all act as if they’ve strangely had zero bonding time with each other during this year for no other obvious reason than letting them have the moment later on when they must “work together”.
This origin story builds its characters so carefully in an attempt to fully flesh them out, but then completely omits the most important part when they have to deal with their new gifts (and/or curses). There isn’t really any time to watch them use their powers at all, apart from a few training scenes that don’t do more than to establish what they are each capable of for the big battle to come. It could be assumed that it was done to cut time, but it seems like such a grievous error to essentially ignore the characters earning their stripes and an important step in their journey emotionally.
This wouldn’t have been so bad if the rest of the film had at least run smoothly story wise, but looking at my watch, it had less than half an hour to go and no real antagonist had shown up yet. The film attempts to quickly set-up the villain, Doctor Doom, in a matter of minutes as if he was someone that was completely forgotten about and added to the script at the last minute, and then also hastily tries to establish apocalypse-level stakes with his evil plans that have rather flimsy motivations. It also becomes very unclear what exactly his powers are, as one moment he’s going on a killing spree by literally making peoples heads explode with his mind, and the next he doesn’t do more than telepathically throw rocks.
For the most part, all the powers themselves look pretty good on the screen, but the special effects do look a little dated (a possible consequence of trying too hard visually to set itself apart form the earlier films). The Thing being fully CGI this time works well, but there are times when the voice and his appearance don’t mesh well together, as well as moments here and there where the character lacks the appropriate weight when interacting with his environment.
While a vast improvement over the previous films, Fantastic Four still falls short of what it should have been. Coming in at only a 100 minute running time, the film felt rushed due to the third act problems and could have done with an extra twenty minutes or so. Still a solid entry in the currently overrun landscape of superhero films.